The year was 1989.
The place? McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga.
It was a triple concert featuring Cinderella, The Bullet Boys and Winger. Christi Michael and I had wiggled and wormed our way to the front of the stage. We were 18.
Kip Winger, frontman of Winger, towered above us doing his thing. Dressed in black, with big dark hair and drenched in sweat, he belted out “Seventeen,” “Headed for a Heartbreak” and other hits that had landed his band in the thick of glam-metal culture.
Fast forward to the present. I’m on the phone with Kip while he’s munching gluten-free toast with coconut butter. We’re talking about rock and roll, what Winger has been up to these past couple of decades and about their upcoming Saturday performance in Atlanta.
“The days of MTV and hardcore rock,” I said. “What was it like to be an integral part of that?”
“It was everything you can imagine and more,” the multi-platinum recording artist answered. “Except I never did drugs. I got that out of my system when I was in my teens. Performing was the most important thing to me. I played it pretty clean.”
Born in Denver to jazz musician parents, Kip and his brothers formed a rock band early on and began playing the bar scene. Eventually Kip moved to New York and waited tables, continued to study music and got a break through songwriting. He met Reb Beach and began recording demos. Eventually they formed a band along with drummer Rod Morgenstein and keyboard player Paul Taylor. But not before Kip spent some time playing bass in Alice Cooper’s band. He left Cooper in 1987 to focus on his own project. It was Cooper who suggested Kip’s project be called Winger.
Together the members of Winger made awesome sounds, sold a lot of records and had a lot of fun. And then, something unimaginable happened. Something that would shake the very foundation of rock music — at least for a while. That something? Grunge.
“How did I feel during the grunge years?” Kip once echoed an interviewer. “Unemployed.”
“I kind-of went anti-public,” he told me. “I fell out of the scene altogether ... I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.”
There, he built a studio in the hills and started writing and producing music his way. He expanded and embraced his talents as a composer. He sought out able teachers, he studied with masters and he created. He even wrote a critically-applauded symphonic piece for the San Francisco Ballet called “Ghosts” now running in London.
“In Santa Fe,” Kip told me, “I did what I wanted to do. I didn’t care if anyone liked what I was doing or not. The only way to do art is to not care what people think. Art, when you try to make it for other people, it’s not authentic. You, for example, you’re writing a book. You can’t care what anyone else thinks.”
“There’s going to be people who like what you do and people who won’t,” he added. “The key is whether or not you like it.”
In 2009 Winger released their fifth studio album, “Karma.”
The reviews were good. I recommend it to anyone with an appetite for true hard rock served up by legends of the stage. You can sample four of the 10 tracks online at www.wingertheband.com.
A resident of Nashville, Tenn., Kip works both solo and with a variety of other artists on a variety of different projects including, of course, Winger. He writes music, performs powerful acoustic shows, and about every two years goes on tour with Winger. In fact, on Saturday Winger will close out the Summer Rock Series at Wild Bill’s at 2705 Market St. in Atlanta. Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.ticketmaster.com or can be obtained at the door.
Keep up with Kip at www.kipwinger.com.
Connie Hall-Scott is a freelance writer and a resident of Dalton. Her first book, “Haunted Dalton, Georgia,” published by History Press, is scheduled for release in October.
The year was 1989.
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